Ladner and Burke win a Bunkum Award!!!

February 3, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The NEA’s “academic” mouthpiece have awarded a Bunkum Award to both me and Lindsey Burke! 

Here it is:

The If I Say It Enough, Will It Still Be Untrue? Award, to the Heritage Foundation’s Closing the Racial Achievement Gap, by Matthew Ladner and Lindsey Burke. The award notes Ladner’s success in repackaging in many different venues and media his spurious claim that a series of Florida reforms, including tax vouchers and grade retention, “caused” racial achievement gaps to narrow in the Sunshine State. “Ladner’s fecundity isn’t really what sets this work apart. It’s his willingness to smash through walls of basic research standards in his dogged pursuit of his policy agenda,” according to our judges. “Nothing in the data or analyses of Dr. Ladner or the Heritage Foundation comes even close to allowing for a causal inference.”

First, I would like to thank the academy, and the Heritage Foundation for giving me a chance to win this wonderful honor.  The scorn of reactionaries is a treasure to cherish. Given that our critic, bless her heart, unknowingly included a table in her report that completely undermined her thesis, I was delighted to see it published.

As to this “inference issue” Dan Lips and I published an article years ago in the nation’s most influential education policy journal examining a number of possible alternate explanations to Florida’s remarkable academic gains. Our critic not only ignored this article, she essentially recreated the argument of another education school professor who we addressed in the piece. She didn’t cite his work either. Oh, and she started her critique off by complaining that Burke and I failed to perform a literature review.

In any case, both Burke and I will have to continue to work hard to earn more of these awards. I hope that we haven’t peaked too early…

Wonk Action Shots!

January 27, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I just returned from a series of events put on by the Kansas Policy Institute and the Foundation for Educational Choice. Long suffering readers of JPGB might possibly recognize the topic if they turn their intuitive discernment nob to “11”:

Need another hint? Well, okay….

I met great people in Kansas, and had them ask very good questions. The NAEP shows that on average Kansas schools are good when compared to American states. The scores for disadvantaged student populations, including the growing Hispanic population, must improve if Kansas is going to go from good to GREAT.

Story in the Wichta Eagle here and a television news report here.

Reason TV for School Choice Week Part Deux

January 27, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My residual self image is having a hard time looking at this guy with gray hair…

Burke and Ladner respond to the Think Tank Review Project

December 6, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lindsey Burke and I respond to a critique of our work by the Think Tank Review project. Perhaps my favorite part is where the reviewer chides us for failing to do a literature review but failed to notice that Dan Lips and I had refuted her main contention over a year ago in Education Next. The main point of the review is an attempt to cry foul over Florida’s 4th Grade NAEP scores due to the 3rd grade retention policy.

I’ve changed my mind, this is my favorite part:

This page comes directly from the review. Notice that by the information gathered by the reviewer herself, the percentage of Florida students scoring FCAT 1 (the lowest possible score and the score making a student eligible for retention) in 3rd grade fell from 27% in 2001-02 to 17% in 2008-09. That’s almost a 38% decline.

Likewise, the percentage of African-American students scoring FCAT 1 fell from 41% to 27%, and the Hispanic rate fell from 35% to 21%. Notice that the African-American rate of scoring FCAT 1 now matches the overall rate in 2001-02 had been.

This is called “radical success.”

Notice also that the number of students actually being retained drops by more than half between the first year of the policy and 2008-09. Despite that fact, Florida’s 4th grade NAEP scores continued to climb. If Florida’s NAEP improvement were driven by retention, scores ought to have peaked early in the decade, and then fallen off. Instead, they continued to rise throughout the decade, even as retention declined.

Oh, and Florida’s reading scores improved by almost a grade level before the retention policy even passed. I could go on, point out the practice of mid-year promotions further weakens the “it was all retentions” theory, and/or blather at some length about the regression discontinuity analysis that Jay performed, which strongly points to something other than aging going on with this policy. Click the link if you want to read about it.

The bottom line: these policies worked. The percentage of Florida students scoring below basic on 4th grade reading dropped from 47% to 27% between 1998 and 2009. No one knows exactly how much of which policy moved the needle, but there is a simple solution to this: do all of the policies at the same time.

If Florida lawmakers had mandated in 1999 that students stood off the side of their desks to do jumping jacks to start each school day, and childhood illiteracy dropped like a rock off a cliff, I would be advocating for other states to do the same. At least until such time that someone established that it didn’t add any value.

In some offline conversations I have had with the Think Tank Review people, they seem to think that other states should be “cautious” until we know exactly how much improvement there has been after hair-splitting, and what causes what.

I disagree. In my view, that’s like getting into an argument about whether to use the sprinkler system, the firehose or the buckets of water when kids are running around with their hair on fire. Florida used all the approaches at once, and got great improvement.

Governor-elect Scott seems to busily readying Florida Reform Version 2.0. Somehow I doubt he will be much persuaded by an attempt to muddy the water on Version 1.0.

All is not lost, however.

I will be adding the above table from their study to my Powerpoint, given how well it makes the case for Florida’s reforms.

Rhee Resignation

October 13, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Robert Enlow, Greg, Virginia Walden Ford,  Lance Izumi, Lisa Snell and I weigh in on the Rhee resignation in School Reform News.


The Cool Kids put on a brave face in the New York Times.

Rotherham wisely notes that if Gray is going to kill reform, he will do it later in a series of pillow-smotherings rather than in some obvious fashion.

WaPo columnist McCartney on the Rhee aftermath.

Finally, the WaPo produced this sobering “Man on the Street” reaction video showing DC residents having far more sympathy with ineffective teachers than the students in the schools.

Would You Want These People Making Ed Policy?

September 19, 2010

American Legislative Exchange Council releases Report Card on American Education

September 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The American Legislative Exchange Council released the Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform today coauthored by yours truly, Andy LeFevre and Dan Lips. Follow the link and check out our rankings of state NAEP performance based on the overall math and reading scores and gains of general education low-income children, and our “poll of polls” grades for K-12 policy in each state.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush penned the foreward. After losing a bet Stanford Political Scientist Terry Moe gave the book a very kind endorsement:

Everyone interested in education reform should read this book. Using a method that—by focusing on the achievement of low-income children—allows for apples-to-apples comparisons across the states, the authors present a treasure trove of eye-opening performance data and arrive at a ranking of state performance that reveals both surprising success and shocking failure. The book is well worth reading for the data alone. But it also offers a good deal more, from research summaries to methodological clarifications to model legislation—and concludes with an insightful discussion of the high-powered reforms that have helped some states out-perform others, and that offer the nation a path to improvement. I should add, finally—and with genuine admiration—that the book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read: something I can rarely say about a data analysis.

JPGB readers will of course realize that this is quite a tribute to Andy and Dan, given your painfully intimate knowledge of my garbled writing. Thanks also to Jeff Reed and Dave Myslinski from ALEC (Jeff is now rocking and rolling at the Foundation for Educational Choice), Jay and my Goldwater Institute comrades.

Check it out and let me know what you think. Be nice though: today is my birthday, which makes me even more emotionally volatile than usual.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the PDF.


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